Sex and contraception

In her latest entry Josephine explains Roman Catholic thinking on sex and contraception

For most of history, few women had the chance of studying and using their education in the public sphere. In fact, for most of history, very few men had the chance of studying either. In the Western world, and elsewhere, women have the same opportunities as men. Without such opportunities, I would not be writing this now!

Yet women and men, feel the overwhelming importance of committed love and the children that are the product of this love. Totalitarian and secular governments often seek to treat women in the work-force as if they were men and as if their inherent value lay in the world of paid employment. They down-grade the importance of marriage, which is the gift of one man to one woman and one woman to one man. When you present a gift to someone, you cannot take it back! Therefore the Catholic Church defends marriage and underlines the equality of woman and man in that state.

Sex, in Christian understanding, is for ‘bonding and babies,’ just as food is for nourishment and sleep is for rest.

Because one cannot take back the gift of self that one has given to husband or wife in marrying, the Catholic Church holds that marriage cannot be dissolved. This teaching goes back to that of Christ in the gospel of Matthew, when he said that a man who ‘divorces his wife … and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’ (Mt.19) and in Mark, Ch 10, Jesus adds ‘And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she is guilty of adultery too.’

It is becoming increasingly evident that marriage provides the stability that human beings crave, whether adults or children but especially the latter. Emotional security is so important to children that it needs to include both parents, though many single parents are heroically successful in bringing up their children. Separation because of cruelty of one sort or another is a different matter.

‘AGAINST CONTRACEPTION? CAN YOU BE SERIOUS?

Because marriage is the place for active sexual love, marriage is the place for the gift of self to the other. Barriers are out of place. Contraceptives are essentially barriers between the self-giving of the two. That does not mean that the couple cannot decide the number of their children they would like to have, on the basis of their health, their energy, and their finances. The woman’s body has indicators that show the few hours in each cycle when she can conceive and she and her husband can choose to abstain from sex for about seven days in each month. Not easy, perhaps, but better than condoms, which, however perfect in the factory, can tear and slip in use. Better than the pill, which can produce many and varied unwanted side effects. Because of failures and difficulties with contraceptives, abortions become an acceptable back-up – abortions take female life in the womb (as well as male). With goodwill, natural fertility management, on the other hand, brings the couple closer together, each having the same responsibility for their family.

In February this year, the FPA, formerly the Family Planning Association, an organisation not known for sympathetic understanding of Roman Catholic teaching, published a report which found that natural family planning is as effective as the contraceptive pill, long seen as the benchmark of fertility control. (Daily Telegraph 21.2.07)

The condom is considered to have a failure rate in practice of about 15%. In the case of AIDS infection, that would equate to a terrible risk.

Josephine Robinson studied at Oxford before working as an actress until she married and had children. She has worked for various Christian and pro-life charities and is author three books and numerous articles.
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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland